They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Conclusion: Part 5 of a Study of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15

To conclude our study of the stories found in Luke 15 we must now go back to the beginning and summarize what we have learned. As was stated in our introduction, for hundreds of years the Latin tradition has called this parable, “Evangelium in Evangelio“ (the gospel within the gospel) and we have learned that the tradition is wonderfully accurate. But to discover that truth we had to do a lot of digging and searching similar to what archaeologists would have done as they dug through one of the ancient tels. We explored each part of the parable in detail and by doing that we solved some problems that just a casual reading would present. We broke the parable into four segments, ”The Request for the Inheritance”, “The Far Country”, “Return Home”, and the “Banquet and the Older Son”, and looked at each segment carefully. This let us dig up some wonderful new avenues and thoughts that we had probably never noticed before with just a normal reading. Let’s summarize each section and attempt to tie it all together.

When the young man asked to receive his inheritance early while his father was still alive, he was in effect saying in that Middle Eastern Culture, “I cannot wait for you to die.” This request would have greatly humiliated the father and he would have been expected to vehemently refuse this brash request. Instead, the father grants his son’s request. The reader now knows that this is no ordinary earthly father and realizes that something bigger is taking place. The father must be like what God would be! The son severs the relationship with this wonderful father and cashes in his chips and takes off to a far country to do it “his way.”

When his son arrives in the far country, he quickly loses all his inheritance by making poor decisions. He has to go to work for a Gentile feeding his pigs just to survive. The story is telling us in an obvious Jewish manner that he has gone as far away from his family and God as he can possibly get. He realized that his only hope of survival was to get back to his father, so he came up with a plan to try to get back into his good graces. If he can just come up with the right words, maybe his father will take him back. He was trying to keep the law by working his way back to salvation into the good graces of his father and the family.

The turning point in the story comes when the son appears at the edge of his village. His father has been waiting for him all this time to come home. He has been watching day and night. He runs out to meet his wayward child at the edge of the village and falls on his neck and begins to kiss his lost son. He didn’t wait to see what the son had to say for himself. He freely offered his grace first. The father’s grace was sufficient to redeem the son from his lost condition. No payment was required from the son!

The father then orders a huge banquet to celebrate the fact that his son was lost and now is found. The banquet was like the Lord’s Supper in that as sinners we are invited to have fellowship with the Father, who demonstrated such costly love to save us. The older son, who is a law-keeper, is mad because he thinks there should be some compensation from the law-breaking younger son. He didn’t have to pay a price for his sins! Grace was offered without the requirements of the law being met. In fact, at the end of the story, grace was offered to both sons, the law-breaker and the law-keeper.

What a picture of the gospel message! Now, you begin to clearly see who the characters in the story represent. Don’t forget who Jesus was speaking to (the Pharisees and the teachers of the law) and why He offered this story. He was responding to their complaints that He was receiving sinners and even eating with them! By telling a story of a father who orders a banquet so that he can sit down and eat with sinners (prodigal), He was obviously talking about Himself as the father figure. The younger son is definitely a metaphor for the tax collectors and sinners (the law breakers) that Jesus was associating with. The older son is definitely meant to be the Pharisees and the teachers of the law because they were the law-keepers. How could Jesus offer the law-breakers a seat at the table with Him? Jesus, as the father, then offers a seat at the table for the law-keeper (older son) also.

Don’t we now have a much clearer picture of what the gospel really is? God is not some grim authoritative patriarch, but a loving father who will do anything to bring us back to Him. We can’t earn our way back; He has paid it all and at a great personal cost! He is constantly looking, taking on the role of a servant, waiting to run to us and freely offer His grace to us. When we accept His grace He then sits down at the table and eats with us to seal that reconciliation. The question remains at the end of the story – will we accept being found? Will we respond to that costly love? Will we sit down at the table of fellowship with Christ? The answer hangs in the balance as the reader has to respond to the invitation in their own heart. “Evangelium in Evangelio” rings loud and clear. This really is the gospel message and it is wonderfully portrayed in this story from the master story teller Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Banquet and the Older Son: Part 4 of a Study of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15

After the father meets and reconciles with his lost son, he orders a banquet to be held. He says in Luke 15:24, “Lets have a feast and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found”. In the father’s perception, his son was lost and dead at the edge of the village and he went out in a costly demonstration of love to find and save his son. This brings up an important question. Was the banquet held in honor of the prodigal or in honor of the father? We usually think that the banquet is to honor the son. However, is it a celebration of the prodigals successful efforts at reaching home on his own, or is it a celebration of the success of the father’s costly efforts to find and save his lost son? If you compare this celebration to the most important banquet in the gospels, the Last Supper, you see some amazing similarities and truths of the gospel message. A part of the meaning of the Last Supper meal is that we as redeemed sinners are offered continued table fellowship with Jesus. The Last Supper is a celebration of Jesus’ costly sacrifice to reconcile us to himself. Isn’t this banquet that the father gives for his son a foreshadowing of the Holy Communion, where we are invited as sinners to participate in that sacred meal? Jesus is obviously the hero of the Last Supper Banquet and the sinners are not the center of attention. All glory is reserved for the father. Jesus does not eat with sinners to celebrate their sin, but to celebrate his grace. This banquet, ordered by the father, is a celebration of the costly efforts and great sacrifice the father has made and sinners (the lost son and the older son) are invited to come.

The older son has a real problem with the idea of grace being given to the younger brother. He doesn’t think that there should be any reconciliation without compensation. Why didn’t he have to pay back all the money he lost before the father took him back? He wasn’t having to pay for his sins! Grace was offered and accepted without the requirements of the law having been met. Grace is not only amazing, but unbelievable! How can it be true? Don’t we get what we pay for?

The older son refuses to participate in the celebration and attacks both his father and brother in public. In doing so, he insults his father in front of all the guests. A western cultural equivalent would be to have a shouting match with your father at a wedding. Now, the older son has also severed his relationship with the father. What will the father do? Culture would expect that the father would explode and reprimand the older son for the dishonor that he has caused. However, again the father is willing to offer a costly demonstration of his unearned love. Only now it is offered to the law keeper instead of the law breaker! He leaves the banquet and entreats the older son and offers him the same costly undeserved love.

The parable has no ending in that we don’t know what the older son decides. Will the older son now enter the banquet and start acting like his father or will he refuse to accept his father’s offer of costly, unearned love? The reader is invited to provide the ending.

In our final segment we will try to summarize what we have learned and look at the theological themes that are present in this unbelievably complex and fascinating story.

The Return Home: Part 3 of a Study on the Prodigal Son in Luke 15

The turning point in the story comes when the son decides to return home and appears at the edge of the village. He has worked on his speech and is bracing himself for the humiliation he will face when he tries to return to the family. He knows that the “Kezazah” ceremony is coming. He is empty handed and has insulted his family and is a failure in every respect.

But what about the father? He also knew that his son would fail and he also knows how the village will treat his son when he comes home. But, the father is so full of love for his lost son that he has already thought of a plan to save him. Day after day he waits expectantly, looking down the road that leads to the edge of the village. When he sees his son coming, he will run out to meet the boy before he gets too close and welcome him back and protect him from the wrath that will surely await him. If he can reconcile with his son in public, no one will treat his son badly. However, in order to achieve this goal, the father has to humiliate himself in front of everyone.

The father sees the son, “while he was yet at a distance” (Luke 15:20) . This distance is much more a spiritual distance than just the physical gap that separates the father and son. The father again breaks the role of a middle aged eastern patriarch and takes his long robes in his hand and runs through the crowded streets out to the edge of the village to meet his pig herder son. Out of great compassion, he empties himself and becomes a servant and runs to reconcile his son. By the father running, he has greatly humiliated himself. Traditional middle eastern men, wearing long robes, never run in public, because to do so would expose their legs. This was unheard of!

Then as the father reaches the prodigal, he falls on his son’ neck and begins to kiss him before he heard his son’s prepared speech. The father didn’t wait for his son’s confession of sin before he showed his love. He offered his grace first! The young man is totally surprised and is only able to get out the first part of his speech. Overcome with emotion as to what has taken place, he can only say, “I’ve sinned and am unworthy to be called your son”, and leaves out the part ,”will you let me work for you as a hired hand”. He changes his mind about trying to work his father’s love and surrenders his plan to save himself. His father has saved him first! If we are to understand the scene in this light, Jesus story has just demonstrated a new definition of repentance. Instead of having to confess, make compensation and demonstrate sincerity to restore the sinner to God’s favor, Jesus is saying, “I’ve been waiting for you and my grace is sufficient to redeem you from your lost condition”.

Just as the shepherd goes out to find his lost sheep and the woman diligently searches for her lost coin, the father must go out to find his lost son. The father didn’t just sit in the house and wait to hear what the lost son had to say for himself. He gave himself in costly love by running to him at the edge of the village. The son has a choice to make; he can insist that he will work and pay as a solution to the problem, or he can surrender to grace and accept being found like the sheep and coin. The father, as a symbol for God, quietly evolves into a symbol for Jesus. Jesus, as the Father, at great cost, offers reconciliation to each sinner. The image of God and Jesus as the father in this story shows their compassion, love, and life changing form in a way that no other Biblical literature can match. God is, “Love”, and this parable demonstrates it so wonderfully.

Now, to the next act in this beautiful story, the scene of the banquet and the older son. At this point, what is so interesting is that the father in the parable does exactly what Jesus is accused of doing; he receives a sinner and eats with him! In our next lesson we’ll see how the rest of the story plays out!